Stadium Super Trucks fly off a ramp in succession during their first challenge over Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach race weekend, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The roar of the engines, the scents of octane and burning rubber in the air—the experience of a race is unlike any other for millions of fans around the world.

Motorsports, however, aren’t for everyone. But even among those who aren’t drawn to a traditional race event, few can deny the appeal of a certain offshoot that’s been hosted at the Grand Prix of Long Beach for nearly a decade: colorful trucks taking high-speed turns on three wheels before launching off a ramp and soaring through the air.

Since 2013, Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks have flown through Long Beach during Grand Prix weekend. The high-flying racers have returned to the city for the ninth time at the 47th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, six months after their last bout in the city.

“The adrenaline rush, the excitement, the infatuation with cars and style and design and, obviously, competition—those are the things that grabbed me and brought me in,” Gordon said, talking about his passion for racing.

Gordon, 53, was born and raised in the Lakewood-Cerritos area. His grandfather, Huntley Gordon, was a race car driver, making six American Championship Car Racing starts in 1914 and 1915. Robert Gordon Sr. was an off-road desert racing legend, who earned the moniker Baja Bob.

The youngest Gordon started down a similar path as a child, taking up BMX racing when he was 9 or 10, he said. At that time, his dad was racing and working out of Parnelli Jones’ shop in Torrance.

“As a young kid, I was able to be around a facility like that where they had Indycars, drag cars, Baja trucks and other things,” Gordon said. “It allowed me to get hooked on motorsports, and that was a cool thing.”

Gordon graduated from BMX to motocross before getting behind the wheel of a truck for off-road racing like his dad. He won five consecutive SCORE International off-road class championships from 1986 to 1990.

Dissatisfied with the lack of spectators during desert races, SCORE founder Mickey Thompson decided to take the dirt and the trucks to the people, culminating in his stadium series, which ran from 1983 to 1992. Gordon won the stadium series championship in 1989.

From trucks, Gordon transitioned to cars, running in hundreds of races in Trans-Am, IMSA GTO, Champ, NASCAR and IndyCar. But Gordon wanted to get back to his roots and in 2013—more than two decades after Thompson’s stadium truck series ended—he established the Stadium Super Trucks.

“It taught me a lot as a young racer—car control, handling, competition—that’s what Mickey Thompson racing was all about,” Gordon said. “It’s just fun. The stadium truck is probably the most fun vehicle you could ever race.”

The small trucks are purpose-built race vehicles with racing transmissions, engines, shocks and chassis, Gordon said. The bodies are fiberglass, and the trucks weigh in at about 2,800 pounds, and max out around 150 miles per hour.

While an IndyCar can cost upward of $1 million, the Super Trucks run about $300,000, Gordon said. And they get put through the ringer.

“They can bang off each other, bang off the wall, hit the jumps and keep going. These things are really strong,” Gordon said, adding that each truck is manufactured at the same facility to the same specifications, so there are no advantages.

Gordon said the truck series is a good stepping stone for up-and-coming drivers. Back in the Thompson days, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears came up through the series like Gordon and went on to long careers in IndyCar and NASCAR.

Now, Gordon’s series is launching careers of young talent, including 2020 NASCAR truck series champion Sheldon Creed and Australian-American Indy Lights driver Matthew Brabham.

“It teaches race car drivers to be good drivers because you have to literally manhandle this vehicle,” Gordon said.

Not only is the Super Truck series an in for young drivers, Gordon said, but it is also a great marketing tool to attract a broader and younger audience. One video on the series’s Facebook page has accumulated over 131 million views, which Gordon says is more than any other motorsport video, including Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR.

Keeping up with a younger crowd meant acknowledging its shorter attention span, Gordon said. To keep fans excited and engaged, Super Truck races run about 20 minutes.

“At about 20 minutes, they’re bored, they’re ready for something different,” Gordon said. “We can keep the attention of a young adult engaged for that amount of time. And I love it. It’s just a lot of fun.”

As the name suggests, the Stadium Super Trucks still race in stadiums, as they did under Thompson in the 1980s and ’90s, but Gordon said he thinks the drivers put on just as good a show—if not better—on street tracks like the ones in Long Beach.

Gordon, who now lives in Orange County, drove in Long Beach during his Trans-Am and IndyCar years and said he plans to keep his Super Trucks racing in the city as long as the Grand Prix allows them.

“I love the atmosphere, the history, the tradition—it’s one of my favorite tracks,” Gordon said. “The King of the Beach is always fun. It’s an iconic event.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.